In our latest sermon in the series "Letters from Lockdown", Tom preaches from Philippians 2:12-18. In this passage Paul encourages us to live out the truth of the gospel in our everyday lives.
Recently, I had to book my car into the garage, because it’s got an ongoing problem with the coolant system. There is a small leak which, over time, causes the warning light to come on and the engine to chug lethargically. It carries on like that for a while and then finally stops altogether. My approach to this problem has usually been to ignore taking it to the experts, but to keep topping up the coolant system with water, hoping it will get me through the next journey.
It’s often like that in the Christian life. Even with the warning light displayed, we can just chug on, and eventually our energy system will drain out and we will stop. We can ignore the problem, or we might even forget about it. But just like the car, we need a mechanic to properly sort out the problem. To be more exact, we need the master mechanic, Jesus Christ.
How does the work of Jesus Christ empower our lives?
The Obedient Life
Obviously, Paul isn’t teaching here about machines, he’s teaching about how Jesus Christ works in people, particularly in our relationships.
Chapter 2 :12 begins: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.
Paul is addressing the church in Philippi not only as their teacher, but as a close friend, and father. And in verse 17 he says, “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.”
The drink offering mentioned here, refers to the Old Testament drink offering which was poured out on the main sacrifices. Paul says to the church: ‘Your life and faith are the main sacrifice and I am the drink offering poured out on you.”
Jesus Christ was poured out as a drink offering for our salvation, and in the same way that Paul has confidence in the faithful service of the Philippian church, we are saved to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
We tend to think of our salvation as past and future. When I trusted Jesus I was saved. When he comes again I will be saved. We know when and how we came to faith, and we know that we have an eternity of future salvation with the Father.
But the teaching here is very much present tense. We are forgiven in his name, and our salvation is to be worked out here and now.
The ordinary Christian life is not filled with great big events done in faith. Most of our lives are filled with millions of small moments, and Paul says our salvation is for each of those moments. So we need to look to Jesus in all of these small things, to change the way we deal with them. The question we should ask ourselves is ‘How should my salvation change my everyday life?’
How does what Jesus Christ has done for me change each event in my daily life?
Paul says we must work it out with fear and trembling.
When Jesus calmed the storm, at that moment the disciples were less in fear and awe of the raging storm than they were of Jesus Christ’s power to still the waters. The one who calls us into the boat is the one who controls the waves. He is to be worshipped in fear and wonder. Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty. As we work out our salvation we are to weave this attitude into every corner of our lives.
A phrase used in the Reformation is relevant here. It is Coram Deo, meaning: Before the face of a holy God.
Verses 14 -16 tell us to “Do everything without grumbling or arguing”.
I subscribe to a Twitter account called ‘Very British Problems’, which pokes fun at the British culture of grumbling. It has as its signature phrase: ‘If you’re happy and you know it, go away!’
Whilst this is designed to take a light-hearted approach to the habit of grumbling, there is indeed a sinister side to grumbling within the church, which God takes very seriously.
Paul is speaking about relational grumbling, and he later even wrote directly to Syntyche and Euodia to tell them to be of the same mind in the Lord, i.e. to stop arguing. This attitude of grumbling can be very toxic in a church family. The scary thing is that we have grown used to a grumbling mentality, so much so that we hardly notice we’re doing it.
But Paul says, when we ignore this we are failing to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Just think of Israel in the Book of Deuteronomy. Here is the wilderness generation of Israel that didn’t reach the Promised Land because of their grumbling and arguing.
Today’s world is a crooked generation. And if Christians grumble and complain, Jesus Christ will not shine from us. The world will look on us and see no evidence of the love of Christ in our life. Our grumbling will obscure the Gospel.
In the same way that pollution obscures the stars at night, the same can be said of us when all we do is grumble about our situation, or about life.
This is tough medicine from an expert mechanic, Jesus Christ, but it is medicine from our best friend, who can always restore us, when we look to him.
The Obedient Life and How to Live it
Verses 1-18 describe a Gospel sandwich.
Paul says in verse 2 “Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”
And in verse 18 we are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, before the Lord who loves us and gave himself for us.
But in the middle of this passage is the staggering good news of Christ, who made himself nothing in order to become a servant; who humbled himself by being obedient, even to death on a cross; who now lives and reigns in heaven for us.
Therefore, in the light of Christ, Live!
Martin Luther said “It is not the imitation of God that makes us sons of God. It is sonship that makes us imitators”
John Newton wrote a hymn entitled ‘Bitter Indeed the waters are’ and here are some verses from that hymn:
Bitter indeed the waters are
Which in this desert flow.
Though to the eye they promise fair,
They taste of sin and woe.
But there is a wonder-working wood,
I’ve heard believers say,
Can make the bitter waters good,
And take the curse away.
The cross on which the Saviour died,
And conquered for his saints,
This is the tree, by faith applied,
Which sweetens all complaints
How do we get rid of the bitter grumbling? We apply the ‘wonder-working wood’ into the bitter waters. We apply Christ, through his suffering and death, which will make our bitter hearts thankful
The wood of Christ will come into the waters and make them sweet.
This is not past tense. This is a present help.
One commentator has said about the Christian life: ‘We work out what He has worked in’
We can be confident that the good work God has already begun, he will finish, and he’s doing it now. Our power to live this way, in thankfulness and unity, is from God. God the Holy Spirit is working to will us in this direction. He is driving us down that road, and we are to work with him, not against him.
When this happens, we will shine like stars in this generation.
Remember the familiar nursery rhyme ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, and, in particular, the line ‘How I wonder what you are’.
This is what we want. We want this generation to look at us, to see a thankful, unified church working out their salvation in everyday life, by holding on to the word. We want them to say, ‘How I wonder what you are!!’ and to be drawn to the light of Christ
The ‘wonder-working wood’ of the cross of Jesus Christ, the master mechanic, is the power at work in us. This power, applied by faith into our hearts, along with the help of the Holy Spirit, enables us to live in this way.
Philippians 2:12 - 2:18
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (ESV)
Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Text provided by the Crossway Bibles Web Service.